Types of Law Degrees
A career in law is one the noblest and most prestigious pursuits that any individual can undertake. Fundamental to the fabric of so many aspects of our society, it is no reach of credulity to state that the law, and the attorneys that practice the craft of applying and defending the law, are paramount to our order and civility.
It should be no wonder then that each year nearly 50,000 individuals graduate from one of the 202 American Bar Association approved law schools in the United States. It is certain that one of the first questions that each of these law school graduates had prior to embarking on their pursuit of a law degree was to decide what would be the best field of law to practice.
To understand this further, it is important to make a distinction between the types of law degrees that are available in the United States and the fields of concentration, commonly known as law specialties, that exist and distinguish an attorney from being a mere generalist. Many times, those just starting to consider law as a career possibility confuse these two terms. Basically, there are three types of law school degrees while there are several law specialties.
Juris Doctor (J.D.)
This is the most common law degree. It is what one first obtains upon completion of law school. In the United States, this degree is a prerequisite in order to practice law. Academically, it normally entails three years of study. In order to enroll at a law school for a J.D. program a bachelor’s degree and acceptable LSAT scores are required.
While enrolled in a J.D. program it is possible to use elective courses to focus on a specific concentration.
Master of Laws (LL. M.)
The second highest degree in the field of law is the LL.M. It normally involves one year of additional study at a law school. It is a post-graduate degree that is recognized internationally and is used to gain knowledge and expertise in a specialized field of law. In addition to a set of core courses related to the specific law specialty being pursued, collateral elective courses involving disciplines which compliment the specialty are also taken. The presentation of a thesis is also required.
Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)
The S.J.D. is a doctoral level degree and is the highest law degree available in the United States. It involves three years of research intensive study. The majority of the academic effort is centered on formulating and defending a dissertation. This advanced degree is often sought after by those seeking to venture into the academic realm of law, such as aspiring law professors.
Law Concentrations (Specialties)
Although many attorneys remain as generalists throughout their career, seeking a law specialty can greatly increase one’s level of career advancement and earning potential. The most common law concentrations which can be chosen in either J.D. or LL.M. programs at U.S. law schools are:
This concentration involves that which is related to the legal action of prosecuting a crime under public law. Criminal defense, which relates directly to providing a legal defense for the accused, is often seen as an extension of this specialty.
As the name implies, this concentration focuses on areas affecting commercial, industrial or mercantile enterprises and the law.
This body of law relates to the interpretation and subsequent application of the U.S. Constitution. It concerns itself with the safeguarding of the rights of individual citizens. By fiat, it also covers the area involving the inter-relationship between Federal and local levels of government.
Marriages, divorces, adoptions, establishment of paternity and all other matters related to the family are covered by this specialty.
This concentration focuses on matters related to law affecting the nationality, citizenship, or other migratory status of individuals.
Intellectual Property Law
This specialty focuses on matters related to the acquisition and defense of authorized use of intellectually created property. This can include trademarks, copyrights and patents.
This concentration revolves around laws established for the protection of the environment. It also deals with navigating the implementation of regulatory legislation.
Deals with laws affecting navigation, shipping and mineral rights located over open bodies of water.
Specializes in all that affects taxation. This can range from interpreting tax statutes, enforcement of regulations and estate planning.
This concentration covers the field of law which relates directly to gaming and gambling laws.
Focuses on the area of public law that deals with the administrative, enforcement and regulatory actions of a government agency.